The joy of writing and building worlds…

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The joy of writing is the act of creation.

A whole fantasy world made manifest – turning blank pages into battles of character, plot and the subtleties of prose.

But for me, the joy of writing is not merely the act of creating a story which engages and enthralls its readers but in creating a world I can immerse myself in. World building is a skill and one of the many challenges that fantasy and sci-fi writers face when weaving their tales. When done correctly, it compliments the story giving depth and gravitas to ground the fantasy. When done poorly, it smothers the story – turning it into an incidental neighbour you forgot to invite to the party, or worst still, jars with the story due to its utter lack of realism.file3121313815879[1]

The temptation for all writers who world build, is simply that it becomes SO enjoyable to construct your worlds, that you can get easily seduced by your own cleverness – by the intricacies of cultures, the development of language, the botany and animal life, geology, geography and rich histories of your creations. Now that’s fine, if you intend being the only reader of your novel. But, if you’re looking for a readership of more than one, you have to curtail your inner nerd…just a little!

I speak from experience here. Being a teacher of phonetics among other things, I love linguistics and the construction of language. As a result, between my love of phonics and etymology, I have constructed a working language for my characters – ancient Dworllish complete with a basic 24 character Dworllian alphabet based on Maori, Old English, Old Norse and African Bantu dialects! Yes…I did mention nerd, didn’t I?

So, did I include this language and all its nuisances in my book? No. Elements, occasional references and words, but that’s all. I want my novel to have as wide an appeal as possible and readers, even language loving nerds like me, simply don’t need all that information and certainly the story doesn’t.file0001006582285[1]

Okay, so you’ve curtailed your inner geek and taken out those character genealogies you were working on, but what makes a world work? If your novel is a fantasy, whether it be urban, steam punk, classic, high, crossover, contemporary or gothic, do you need to make your world real? HELL YES! No matter how fantastical your creations are, if they are not grounded in realism it makes it damn hard for the reader to connect or care about them.

Think of basic scientific laws, gravity, light speed, evolution etc, of course to bring the magic in, you’ll need to break or subvert these laws but you’ll need to bring realism in somewhere else. This for me, is my next joy…research, research, research!file000816536459[1]

SO much fun it should be illegal! If you’re writing about histories, cultures, mountains, desserts, jungles – research. Let me say that again…RESEARCH! (my nerdy self revels in this)

Even if you only use a fraction of your research in your novel, it will give an integrity and depth of realism to your world that you won’t be able to replicate without. But again, don’t overload it, use sparingly.

For White Mountain and the world behind The Darkling Chronicles, my research runs into three or four large box files and a plethora of books. Ancient history – particularly Sumeria, the Hittites and the Indus Valley civilisation. Indigenous people – like the Chukchi, Nenets, Khanty and Evenki of Russia and the Siberian tundra. The geography and geology of the real locations my characters travel to. Botany and wildlife etc etc. Make it REAL!

Kallorm ‘City of Light’, my subterranean metropolis beneath the Congolese jungles, in central Africa, feels real because so many things around it ARE real, from the colour of the earth in that region to the sapele and iroko trees that grow there. For my Fendellin ‘Kingdom of Dragons’, a lost realm amongst the Himalayas, I based on Tibetan Buddhist myths and Indian folklore about Shambhala – the same legend that inspired James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon and his Shangri-La.

Oh…and any places you travel to, use them for inspiration too. The landscapes of Dartmoor and New Zealand have been particularly rich for me.

So, you’ve done your research, built your world, made it real but not overpowered or forgotten your story (remember – story and characters take gold & silver, setting – bronze), then you are on your way!

Ah…the joy of writing and building worlds… 😀

For some useful advice on the subject, check out Fantasy Faction and their post ‘Why World Build?’ http://fantasy-faction.com/2012/why-would-build/

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Treks in the wilderness…Agatha Christie, Conan Doyle and deepest darkest Dartmoor!

Just returned from a wonderful holiday down in Devon and my beloved Dartmoor National Park. Backpacks and suitcases are still unpacked and littering the hall. The dogs are going crazy over the strange smells they’re getting from my trainers…I’m hoping it’s the wild pony poo and the great outdoors and NOT my feet! So, as I nurse my various bruises, scrapes, blisters and insect bites, I find myself grinning like the proverbial Cheshire cat!

Basking in uncharacteristic and glorious sunshine, I found myself lying on the soft golden sands of Bigbury-on-Sea, listening to the lapping waves, children playing and the occasional family disagreement! Under cerulean skies I watched the world’s only sea tractor cross the bay to Burgh Island, laden with passengers, to the island’s most famous landmark – the 1920’s Art Deco Burgh Island Hotel, haunt of such luminaries as Agatha Christie, Cole Porter and Noel Coward amongst others.

Agatha Christie wrote Evil Under the Sun whilst staying there, staring out across the cliffs and shifting sands, and it also proved inspiration for her novel, And Then There were None. You can easily see why writers from Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle to Du Maurier were drawn to Devon and Cornwall, it is simply breathtaking!

Leaving the coast though, I entered the magical mythical world of Dartmoor.

Ahhh Dartmoor…such a wondrous place. Wild, unspoilt, hauntingly beautiful. Drenched in rich history. Steeped in so much mythology and folklore you can practically taste it, not to mention the ghost tales…

My favourite ghost story, apart from the infamous ‘Hairy Hands’ that grab your steering wheel and send you careering off the road to your untimely death, is the forlorn and rather spooky tale of ‘Jay’s Grave’. There are various versions of the story, as is often the case with oral traditions.

Around 1790 a young girl, Mary Jay, later called Kitty Jay, left the Poor House to work as a servant girl at a local landowner’s farm. Once there, she quickly caught the attention of the landowner’s son who promised to marry her. But, when she fell pregnant he abandoned her and she was thrown out of the farm. With no where to go, no chance of employment anywhere else, and labelled as a ‘slut’, in despair Kitty Jay tragically took her own life. She was found hanging in one of the barns on the farm. The local church refused to have her buried on consecrated ground. The custom at the time was to bury suicides at crossroads, sometimes with a stake driven through their hearts to ensure that the restless soul of the departed could not return to haunt living, god-fearing mortals. This was the fate of poor Kitty Jay. She was interred at an intersection of a road and track high up in moors, just north-west of Hound Tor. The grave soon became known as ‘Jay’s Grave’ and it was not long before strange events were reported there. On some moonlit nights, a dark figure was seen kneeling beside the grave, head bowed, face in hands. But the phenomenon most associated with Kitty’s final resting place is the strange and daily appearance of fresh flowers placed on her grave. To this day, and no matter what time of the year it may be, every morning a new posy of flowers appears. No-one has ever been seen leaving them. Over the years many have tried to glimpse who may be responsible, even camping out all night to witness the event. Yet again and again, the mystery remains as the fresh flowers appear.

Being up on the moors myself, you can easily understand where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle got his inspiration for his most famous work and possibly the best crime fiction mystery of all time, The Hound of the Baskervilles. Climbing to the top of a tor to survey the wild windswept moors below, is just a magical sight. Watching the weather play its own role in maintaining the character and mystery of the place. One moment bright sunshine, the next thick mists and fogs to ensnare the weary traveller. Every place, every rock, has a story to tell or a story to inspire. Certainly, years before, I found my own novel growing there, amongst the tussock grasses, gorse and bracken.

Very few places can fire the imagination that way, but Dartmoor IS such a place. Clapper bridges, ancient wizened oak forests, leafy glades, rushing rivers, dark foreboding dells and weather-beaten tors. If you truly want to step back in time and be transported to a magical land of fantasy and history…you MUST visit!

So, after my second exhausting hike, having negotiated the very uneven stepping-stones that cross the River Dart, I sat stretched out in the gusts that so often howl over the moors and watched Dartmoor’s wild ponies. Sheer bliss! 😀